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A Shot in the Texas Dark: An Al Quinn Novel, #4

A Shot in the Texas Dark: An Al Quinn Novel, #4

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A Shot in the Texas Dark: An Al Quinn Novel, #4

Länge:
253 Seiten
3 Stunden
Freigegeben:
May 15, 2018
ISBN:
9781386162742
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

When a full-blooded Cheyenne called the Bone Lady asks Al Quinn to find her missing daughter, Gerta, he readily agrees. However, he soon discovers that there is no trail, no starting point. Forced to grab at glimmers and hunches that lead him to the seamy edge of a hidden child-porn ring, Sheriff Clayton asks Al to cooperate with an undercover FBI agent.

Al's pal Fergie thinks the Bone Lady is one of the scariest women she's ever met. Not only does the woman work in a butcher shop, but some bodies begin to show up sliced like holiday hams.

Each effort to find Gerta leads Al down a new dangerous path, from Russian mafia types to his old foes connected with the Mexican cartels. It may be that this time he just has to take a shot in the dark.

Freigegeben:
May 15, 2018
ISBN:
9781386162742
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Russ Hall is author of fifteen published fiction books, most in hardback and subsequently published in mass market paperback by Harlequin's Worldwide Mystery imprint and Leisure Books. He has also co-authored numerous non-fiction books, most recently Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company (Financial Times Press, 2009) with Richard Brunner, former head of design at Apple, Now You’re Thinking (Financial Times Press, 2011), and Identity (Financial Times Press, 2012) with Stedman Graham, Oprah’s companion. His graduate degree is in creative writing. He has been a nonfiction editor for major publishing companies, ranging from HarperCollins (then Harper & Row), Simon & Schuster, to Pearson. He has lived in Columbus, OH, New Haven, CT, Boca Raton, FL, Chapel Hill, NC, and New York City. Moving to the Austin area from New York City in 1983. He is a long-time member of the Mystery Writers of America, Western Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. He is a frequent judge for writing organizations. In 2011, he was awarded the Sage Award, by The Barbara Burnett Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation—a Texas award for the mentoring author who demonstrates an outstanding spirit of service in mentoring, sharing and leading others in the mystery writing community. In 1996, he won the Nancy Pickard Mystery Fiction Award for short fiction.


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Buchvorschau

A Shot in the Texas Dark - Russ Hall

Quinn

Chapter One

Al Quinn realized he was gripping his binoculars a little too tightly. He glanced over at Fergie, expecting her to be heating up until she was boiling and bubbling like a coffee percolator. He wasn’t wrong.

She spoke through clenched teeth. You see a brilliant white flash from behind the edges of a drawn motel blind, then another and another, and you just know what that’s about. Someone’s daughter or sister is having pictures taken that aren’t going to make it into a high-school yearbook. She’ll be disrobing in stages until she lies back naked before the camera and the eyes of thousands of men made lonely by being single or even by being married.

Al couldn’t hear her teeth grind, but he’d heard her on the subject before, and the edge she gave her words hadn’t dulled a bit.

What’s especially sad, she said, is that jobs like the ones you and I retired from rob us of anything like insight or epiphany on stuff like this.

She was a retired city detective. He’d done his detective work for the sheriff’s department.

She sighed. But I suppose we most certainly get plenty of opportunities to feel anything from shame to a slice of humble pie.

Al couldn’t think of anything to say to that. He looked back toward the motel. The white camera flashes kept popping, snapping at Al just as the Bone Lady’s eyes had earlier in the day, eyes as black as unlit coal yet still able to throw sparks enough for the hottest of fires.

As recently as twelve hours before, he had been staring back into those eyes, so intensely black he could see no iris or pupil, just two dark glittering mirrors in which he could imagine tiny reflections of himself.

I want you to find Gerta and make her stop, she said.

Stop what?

The Bone Lady glanced toward Fergie, who stood taller than Al and a foot taller than herself. Al had heard from the Cheyenne gal after she had gotten a nudging from her friends, some Native American tribespeople he’d helped in the past as a sheriff’s department detective in his years of restless tumbling back and forth from one end of the county to the other. He’d always gone out of his way for such folks, and they seemed to know he’d retired and had time on his hands if someone really needed his help.

Al and Fergie stood in the Bone Lady’s place of work. She was covered in the red and drying brown of blood, a knife hanging loosely in one hand with the same casual certainty that a master carpenter had when he held a hammer. Her hairnet matched her apron, which would have been white had it not been splashed with those Jackson Pollock sprays of blood.

Behind her, in glass cases, lay chops, ribs, steaks, and the usual bits of domestic carrion. The building around them was vast, but Al fancied he could hear a distant drip somewhere. Because of the sort of place it was, he wondered if that drip might also be blood.

Al wasn’t surprised a woman of her pure blood could do a job like that. After all, the women in the tribes did most of the meat preparation when they weren’t gathering firewood or water or handling the heavy lifting for any moves the tribe made. The men needed to make sure the meat kept coming in for the women to prepare.

She answered Al but continued to stare up at Fergie. Making a fool of herself with some white man.

She raised her other hand from her side, holding the wooden handle of a steel knife. Waiting for Al to speak, she ran the edge of the long knife against the grain of the steel. Al felt the short hairs on his neck rise, not sensing a whole lot of difference between her words and the sound of the honed blade rasping along the steel’s edge.

I have a pretty full plate right now. Al didn’t dare glance toward Fergie.

Look, you don’t wanna work for me, you just say so. You’ve no reason to lie to me. Her sideways-teardrop-shaped eyes narrowed further. She had high cheekbones with the reddish tint he expected from a full-blood.

It’s no lie. I have other active cases right now. And I’m supposed to be retired. I didn’t say no. I’m just letting you know how busy I am.

Ain’t none of us restin’ on our heels. She nodded toward the back of the shop, where a saw shifted to a higher whine as it moved from cutting meat to cutting bone. I’ve got two black-tail deer back there need dressed out ʼfore noon.

When Al didn’t respond or dare look in Fergie’s direction, the Bone Lady said, Oh, I know all about you. I hear you’re likely to leap at cases that have anything to do with prejudice. You think I’m just backed up full of hate?

Al didn’t know what to think. Most people wouldn’t accuse him of talking too much, though it had been said he sometimes had a smart mouth when he did open his yap. He was still wrestling with what she’d said when someone called her name from the back room.

Just a minute, she called back over her shoulder. She lowered the knife and steel, which Al was glad for. What about it? Can you help me find her?

Where is she?

"I don’ know. Why you think I’m buggin’ you?"

A mother trying to find her daughter... that was a whole other thing. That was a worry he could understand, which was how he and Fergie came much, much later to be parked in the lot of a thirty-dollar-a-night flophouse like the Vacationland Motel at going on 3:00 a.m. The buildings, refurbished and salvaged many times, had a deep, rich history, probably of far more sadness than joy. Few families stopped by to stay there, and if they did, they didn’t choose to do so again.

These other cases you mentioned, Fergie said. Were you referring to me, Maury, and Bonnie?

"Yeah. You three are a handful. Al cleared his throat. One thing I didn’t tell you. This Gerta is fifteen. Her taking off with her mother’s car without permission is one thing, a felony if pressed. But if she’s inside that motel room, that’s a whole other thing."

Fergie’s head snapped toward him. Oh, Al.

I hate to bug the man at this hour, but I’m going to have to give Victor Kahlon a ring. He dug for his cell phone.

You might want to give that a second thought or two, Speedy Gonzalez. He’s just a detective for the sheriff’s department like you were. Even though he’s your friend now, this needs to be checked before it’s reported, or you’re both going to end up wearing an unpleasant aroma. I do think you’ve got to do something if she is inside that motel room. Are you sure that’s her in there? What if it isn’t?

Well, we don’t have anything like a warrant.

When has that ever stopped you?

That sort of thing slowed me down plenty back when I had to follow the book on procedures.

But you’ve said it yourself. You’re retired.

They could still drum up a B and E or something against us.

You’re creative. Give it a thought or two.

Well, we know that’s her mother’s vehicle. Al nodded toward an olive-green Jeep Cherokee. And she got here driving it on her learner’s permit.

The DMV said she did the usual driver’s ed course at fourteen. She’s fifteen now, with a learner’s permit. She won’t be eligible for a regular driver’s license until she’s eighteen or for a provisional license until she’s sixteen. That would allow her to drive solo but not between midnight and five a.m.

I know the law, Fergie. I’m old enough to remember back when we called a learner’s permit a ‘hardship license’ so farmers and ranchers could better exploit their kids.

Then use what you can of the law. How would it apply?

At the very least, we probably have suspicion of statutory rape. Or, if there’s no sex going on, they could be contributing. She’s a minor.

There you go.

We’re not certain to the bone that it’s her in there. What if someone else drove the family car here?

You think the Bone Lady herself is in there?

No, or we wouldn’t still be seeing flashes. She’d be making cutlets out of whoever is using that camera.

"If your reluctance to call Kahlon is because he’s a county detective, you might go with one or two of the FBI folks with whom you’ve worked. You can’t use your ICE buddy Jaime Avila. This has nothing to do with immigration. Hell, because of their Native American blood, they might want us deported."

This is county jurisdiction. We could call someone we know on the Child Exploitation Unit that works out of the state attorney general’s office. But if it turns out to be some thirty-year-old housewife in there, we would be paddleless up a creek with egg on our faces, to mix up that metaphor and pop it in the blender.

Sounds like you need more data, Sherlock. You could always call your buddy Sheriff Clayton if you find anything. He’s used to bailing you out if you do something stupid. If it’s a false alarm, we can just take off and hope they either can’t identify us or don’t want to file any kind of charges.

Al stared ahead at the flashes coming from the room.

Or we could just sit here, Fergie said. I’ve seen the progression before. You start with a girl so young she exudes a nerdy innocence, just what these pervs want. After way too short a time, she’s wearing bright lipstick and too much eye shadow, and she has the look of someone who knows way more about the world than she should at her age.

Well, hell. We can’t just sit here. Let’s go do something... possibly illegal... and see how this shakes out. Al reached into the glove box and took out his Sig Sauer, checked it to ensure it was loaded, and slid it inside his belt at the small of his back as he got out of his truck. Fergie was already out her side of the truck. She bent to pull a small Chief’s Special from an ankle holster. It wasn’t her usual Glock, but it could pack a punch in very close quarters, which seemed likely.

Why don’t you stay in the truck, he said.

Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

They took slow, soft steps across the gravel to avoid making crunching sounds, although whoever was in that motel room was probably making enough of a racket to drown out any noise outside.

They reached the ice machine at the end of the row of rooms. They walked past the doors until they were outside the right one.

Fergie tapped his shoulder, and he bent close.

That door looks too tough to kick in, she said. That’s metal on metal. You don’t have a lock-pick set in your pocket, do you?

Something just as good. Wait here. He eased away.

Barely five minutes later, he came back, easing his way along the row of doors. Fergie leaned around Al to see the fellow he was towing along by his shirt front, a guy who looked pretty much as unenthusiastic as possible. He was making Al drag him, but he wasn’t big enough to get away from Al’s grip and make a break for it. He was wearing a short-sleeved white shirt that had taken on a yellowish tinge, and not from the mercury vapor lights, either. Half a foot shorter than Al’s five-ten, he seemed thin enough that a brisk wind might lift him like a kite.

Who’s that? Fergie nodded toward the man.

An old friend with a past, and not a pretty one. Al nodded to the door. Open it, Bernie.

Whatever Bernie was going to say, possibly something about a warrant, got lost as he swallowed nervously. He stepped closer, took out a master key, and used it on the door’s lock.

Hang onto him. He’s apt to make a dash for it. Al twisted the doorknob and charged into the room.

Bernie glanced up at all six-foot-two of Fergie as she reached for him, and he seemed to shrink an inch shorter. He didn’t try to shake loose her grip on his upper arm as she tugged him along with them.

Inside the room, all the lights were on. Where the shades could be tilted, they aimed light at the bed. One man was standing behind a camcorder on a tripod and holding the flashing camera with his other hand. His head snapped up toward Al then to the door blocked by Fergie. He looked at the pulled drapes of the windows, perhaps weighing whether he could get to them and through them—probably not. Then he focused on the gun in Al’s hand.

The extremely pale naked girl on the bed reached for the bedspread, which lay in a crumpled pile on the floor. She pulled it up and over herself. Al didn’t think she looked even fifteen.

Her costar stood upright in his Viagra-enhanced state, looking for something he could drape over himself. He didn’t look embarrassed but confused, irritated, and... interrupted.

A guy who had been leaning against the wall to the right decided to make a break for the door. He slid to an abrupt stop with his nose an inch or two away from the barrel of Fergie’s Smith & Wesson. She didn’t let go of Bernie, who struggled to pull loose from her other hand.

The cameraman leaped at the distraction. He dropped the flash camera onto the bed and ran directly toward Al, who spun and kicked for the uprights, which in this case was the fork in the guy’s pants. The cameraman folded into a crumpled tangle on the rug.

Gerta, get your clothes on, Al said.

The girl was already tugging on her tight jean shorts. Her head spun toward Al. But I’m not Gerta.

Chapter Two

Al got ushered into Sheriff Clayton’s office at ten the next morning, following a deputy who looked far too young for the job, yet another sign that the years were reeling by.

He’d been in that office hundreds of times but nodded at the old, scarred mahogany desk, the row of locked file cabinets along one wall, and the two wood-paneled walls of awards and photo moments with every dignitary, celebrity, and politician in the county. He was as unimpressed as usual. He liked Clayton but doubted he, himself, would ever have been able to play the smiling-handshake game of being sheriff. Al felt a wave of relief once again for having retired when he did.

Grab a chair, Al. Clayton waved a hand.

Al took in the fellow seated in the other chair across from Clayton. He was the cameraman.

I’d like to introduce you to Special Agent Aaron Masterson, who, by the way, spent the night with an ice pack on his hacky sack because of you.

Aaron’s face flushed red. He half stood and pointed at Al. I want this guy busted down to a patrol-car beat on the outskirts of your county. Do you hear me?

He sat back down, perhaps too quickly, since he winced.

Hmm. You see, there’s a wrinkle in that, Clayton said. The fact is that Al here isn’t even on active duty. He’s retired.

Do you mean to tell me that a private citizen—?

Kind of an ad hoc private detective, Al said, not helping things along at all. Regular cops, and especially FBI agents, have an inherent and chronic loathing of PIs. Then he turned to Clayton. He never said anything at the time.

You understand the concept of being undercover, don’t you? The agent rose halfway again.

He does, Aaron, Clayton said. He’s even been undercover.

You can understand the confusion, Al said. You came at me. You’re lucky I didn’t shoot you.

There’s that, Clayton said. Something to be thankful for. Al often shoots first and asks his questions later.

Is this funny to you two? Aaron spun to face Clayton. You mean this guy’s not going to be disciplined, that he’s not even any kind of cop? He made one call, and deputies were swarming all over that room.

He used to be. One of the best detectives I ever had in the department. But, don’t you know, he got it into his head that he was aging, getting on, and he up and retired. Yet here I am, plodding on at an age far more advanced than his.

Where’s that red-headed string bean who was with you? Aaron was shouting as he glared at Al.

She’s following up on the part about why we were there.

Do you mind telling me what your ex-hotshot was doing crashing a motel photo shoot?

Clayton suppressed a grin. He turned to Al. You’re on.

I was looking for a fifteen-year-old girl named Gerta.

But you didn’t find her, did you?

No. Turns out Gerta chickened out on the golden opportunity to be in child porn, which you were a conspiring part of, and let her fifteen-year-old classmate Eliska borrow the family car and show up. Now, the last I checked, child porn is still illegal, immoral, and about as low as you can go on my personal crime-watch moral compass.

Sometimes you have to go along with things to get the big guys at the top. Aaron blushed in spite of himself.

"Well, I’ve got a missing girl now, who, for all I know, has been kidnapped. Is that the way the

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